A new study commissioned by Cepi to AFRY, a Scandinavian firm supplying engineering and advisory services, shows the untapped further potential for paper mills to function as renewable energy hubs. The pulp and paper industry could increase its on-site renewable electricity and heat production and, through a ‘swing capacity effect’, sell any excess energy production to the grid, nearby neighbourhoods and other industries.
The European pulp and paper industry is already the largest industrial prosumer of clean energies, with over 60% renewables in its primary energy consumption. Proportionally to its size, it is a major industrial investor into the decarbonisation of its processes, notably via on-site renewable energy generation. It is one of the success stories of the European emission trading scheme (EU ETS), which provides incentives for such investments.
The authors of the study conclude that by 2030 the pulp and paper industry has the potential to increase its renewable on-site electricity and heat production to generate almost 31 TWh. This corresponds to 30% of electricity and almost 6% of heat generated on-site in 2020. But mobilising necessary investments would require predictable EU regulation and expeditious permitting procedures to be put into place.
The study also offers an estimate of the space available in different types of paper mills to install solar panels or wind turbines, in addition to other solutions identified by the authors. The energy production capacities outlined in the new report cannot however be implemented rapidly enough to be a solution to the current energy crisis. But widely shared analysis shows that energy costs in Europe are likely to stay high at least for the foreseeable future, and investments in fossil free energy will eventually offer the industry a chance to adapt to a radically changed energy landscape.
The study also explored the possibility for the paper industry to reduce its own consumption and increase the share of renewable energy it provides to the grid, nearby neighbourhoods and possibly other industries. The authors estimate that this ‘swing capacity’ could regularly reach 10% to 20% for an average paper mill.
From a wider perspective, the same effect of optimising between material production and energy generation could also apply to the biomass residues resulting from production. The development of new product applications is already well-advanced. As renewable energy becomes increasingly available and its cost declines in the future, the production of secondary bio-based products and materials is expected to further drive the industry’s transformation. New opportunities will present themselves as the industry becomes increasingly energy-efficient and affordable fossil-free energy becomes more available.